A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Friday, July 27, 2007

The sins of the fathers

Today’s first reading (Exodus 20:1-17) gives us the Ten Commandments: a remarkably short moral code that nonetheless governs not only a person’s relationship with God but also every person’s relationship with one another and not only action but thought and word as well.

In the midst of this most famous of verses, we have this most stern of warnings:

For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,
inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation....

This warning is terrifying indeed, but it also may seem more than a little unfair: why punish the children for the sins of the fathers?

Unfair it may indeed seem, yet even an atheist must acknowledge that each generation suffers on account of the errors of its predecessors: from the endless cycles of vengeance to the depletion of resources and the fouling of water, air, and land (one must add also the destruction of belief, the belittlement of sin, the selfish uses of marriage and the marriage act, and the dictatorship of rationalized whim).

Each generation, it seems, has gone further and further down the path of these evils and each generation that has followed has found the foul harvest of these evils grown deeper and deeper about them.

God’s permissive will has let this happen to the children of sinners, for these things are the inevitable result of the free will and creative powers God gave to humankind. God let it happen, but the fault lies in ourselves as a humanity that has chosen to sin.

But this most stern of warnings is immediately offset by the most generous of promises:

...inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation;

but bestowing mercy
down to the thousandth generation,
on the children
of those who love me
and keep my commandments.

May God show us his mercy always
as we deal with the aftermath of our fathers’ sins
and the tangled web of our own weaknesses and wrongs.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.